Missionaries Who Leave, A First-Hand Account

Modern mission is all about partnership. The church is global, the Holy Spirit as at work and where ever we go in the world we join our Christian brothers and sisters serving the Lord together.

Our family, John, Rebecca and four kids , have lived for the past twelve years in a “restricted access country” (RAC). A place of military rule where it is illegal for foreignersto be involved in Christian ministry. The risks are real. We know friends who have been prisoned or deported for doing so, even in this last year.

We left New Zealand twelve yeas ago in fear and trembling, with a baby and a toddler, going to a lawless, third world,hot, disease ridden place where all our communications and even our daily activities would be spied upon by officials.We can testify that God has been faithful, protecting and providing for us,sometimes in the most unexpected ways.In this forgotten back water of the world we joined a thriving church. This church be came our church, our home, ourfamily and it has been our honour andprofound pleasure to partner with these godly men and women. We enjoyed asuccessful missionary experience bu tfinally the time came to leave.

This article is about why we left and how.

Before we set out on long term overseas missions, which would involve learning another language, we had planned to return to NZ. Our prayer was that wewould return not because we were repulsed from there but because we felt called back here.

One of the fantastic benefits of  mission as partnership is that the work benefits from your involvement and then can continue without you. After all this is God’s work we are merely the servants.

Once we were involved in overseas mission we came to realise what a privileged position we are in as missionaries. The temptation to insist on our way, to make ourselves the centre of everything is real.We must continually die to ourselves as we live for Christ. Knowing we would one-day leave helped us appreciate that we were welcomed guests, whose opinion was
sought but there were healthy boundaries around what our role was and where our responsibilities ended. We came, we thrived, we left.

Our children always knew we would leave forever one day, in the vaguedis tant future. About two years outit became clear that the time to leave would be the end of 2017. Eighteen months out from leaving we had a family discussion about leaving “in a couple of years”. The kids felt mixed about it.When they realised we wouldn’t return to our RAC annually to visit they decided they didn’t want to go to NZ forever after all. In the final year we had many more family chats while the kids hurtled along the emotional rollercoaster of leaving everything and everyone they  knew and loved. At the end of the day we as parents squarely took the burden of responsibility. Although we felt God was calling us back to New Zealand, when the children asked why. We never shut down the conversation by saying “because God said so”, so as not to give them an excuse to hate God because he made them leave their home.

Leaving Well

We lived at a different pace in our  mission context. No one owned personal vehicles, so we all used taxis (our youngest can’t understand why we no longer ride taxis in NZ), rode the bus, Meetings were never held at night, all groceries had to be carried home in the stinking hot and overall life ran at a slower pace. In this context we wanted to leave well which meant giving people time. Time to hear the news, time to talk to us about why we were leaving, time to say goodbye. We also wanted to give our loyal supporters in NZ time.

 A Year of Lasts

One year before we left, we started telling everyone we were leaving. Especially our church family, ministry colleagues and wider friends. This also gave ourselves time to get used to the idea. We did not want to dash off leaving rumours about who offended us. An unexpected benefit of time was having the opportunity to seek reconciliation. More than once on seeing someone for the last time they asked us to forgive them if they ever had caused us offence. While there was no offence to forgiven we were humbled and once again learnt from those we were with.

For the first three months when ever I met with the pastor’s wife she would explain to me why we shouldn’t be leaving. The country was beginning to open up, the church would face new challenges and we should stay to support them through these times. Her reasons were valid but we had confidence that the Holy Spirit would remain with them and that the input we had had would not be for nought. The church would continue to thrive without us, although we would miss each other dearly.

We acutely felt our last year there as just that – last Christmas, last cold season, last new year festivities, last hot season, last time to eat the food, last time we saw a friend, last time night in our home. We said goodbye to people, places and possessions. Our colleagues and friends, Christian and Buddhist alike, fed us and farewelled us. It was a huge move for us to come to New Zealand.

God still calls us

One of the real challenges of leaving the mission field was effectively becoming unemployed. John had no work or ministry lined up, and we had asked our prayer partners to pray for a position for John which would include teaching Old Testament and Hebrew. Right up to the day we left the country we had no idea what John would do in New Zealand. After we had boarded the plane, take offn was delayed so John checked his emails with the last of his 3G data, and there was an email from Laidlaw College offering the possibility of some teaching work. That developed into a 0.6 fulltime equivalent position for this year, which John has already started. Teaching Old Testament and Hebrew, as well as mission studies. God is faithful, and we experienced his faithfulness not because we were missionaries, but because we are Christians.